This review contains spoilers.
5.10 The Kindness of Strangers
Whilst hunting down Alator of the Catha, again played by Gary Lewis, this week Morgana is intent on discovering the true identity of Emrys. She plans to torture the High Priest of the Old Religion, despite his training and ability to withstand all forms of torture, even employing the Nathair to torment his mind beyond all reason.
Whilst Alator suffers, everything else is all sweetness and loveliness for Arthur and Gwen as he takes her for a ride into the forest, plans a breakfast for her, and promptly dispatches Merlin to do all the work. Things were much more interesting when Gwen was under Morgan’s enchantment!
Whilst they’re being all loved-up, refugees flood into Camelot from one of the few places where magic is still used, the victims of Morgana and her wicked ways. It’s an interesting plot thread; we could have seen what happens when Arthur and the Knights of Camelot roll up to a magic-wielding populace, but the thread is pretty much thrown away!
Whilst all this is happening, Merlin heads off to investigate a magical mystery of his own and discovers evidence that Alator is at risk before heading off to pick some flowers and encountering a druid priestess called Finna. She has a warning for him whilst he is picking the aforementioned flowers.
Gaius is naturally suspicious of such a powerful seer, believing her to be in league with Morgana. Of course, Merlin isn’t going to listen to his closest confidant so chooses to visit the powerful follower of the Old Religion, leaving Gaius with no choice but to inform Arthur of Finna’s nature.
Admittedly, sending the knights to deal with the Finna situation probably isn’t Arthur’s wisest move, and things get worse when they arrive on the scene. With little choice but to use magic on the knights, Merlin and Finna evade capture.
With Arthur furious at his knights and Morgana becoming frustrated that she cannot break Alator, both parties search for Finna, unbeknownst to her new protector, Merlin. As Morgana closes in on Finna, she passes on the knowledge of her people and a warning about Mordred to a wounded Merlin before robbing Morgana of the opportunity to interrogate her.
Emrys’ identity is, for now, safe. Morgana has been thwarted once more, and Merlin is saved, just in the nick of time, by the dragon… It doesn’t end on a happy note, however, when it is revealed the dragon is close to death and a knight is found dead, the victim of old magic.
Morgana, it seems, has declared war.
The Kindess of Strangers works despite a script that is overly ambitious in its runtime. There are a few strands – Gaius admitting he is responsible for Finna’s predicament, the dragon rescue, the refugees and far too much time spent with loved-up Gwen and Arthur – that really do get in the way of the underlying story. Gaius didn’t need forgiving straight away and there could certainly have been more to the main story with less Gwen and Arthur!
All that said, the cast lift an, at times, pedestrian script to heady heights, particularly when Gary Lewis, as Alator, and Sorcha Cusack, as Finna, are on the screen. Katie McGrath sizzles as Morgana and doesn’t go over-the-top with her frustration. Conversely, Bradley James plays Arthur in full-on buffoon mode this week, as his various romantic endeavours show his masculine ineptitude. He gets a few opportunities to be the figure of authority, but much of the episode is spent playing the fool whilst Angel Coulby returns to her earlier, and much less interesting, dutiful wife role.
More should have been made of Merlin losing faith in Gaius, instead of reducing it to a throw away reconciliation that feels tacked on to prevent another loose thread needed resolving in the remaining three episodes. Whilst that felt badly handled, Merlin’s distrust of Mordred and the unclear allegiance of that character are played out effectively despite very little interaction. They have a terse relationship and Alexander Vlahos makes the most of his sparse dialogue.
With so much going on, with some of it being of little consequence in the first half of the episode, the knights, save for Mordred, are reduced to background characters. They all have ‘stuff’ to do, but there’s little substance and their quest to find Finna seems to be unresolved: just where did they end up going after Merlin left them?
With one more standalone episode to go and yet more hints being dropped as to what the future holds, the build-up to the final two part story is becoming unbearable!
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